Ann Zinn Buffum and Sandra Stillman Gartner, project directors, interviewed Ellen David Friedman on November 8, 2005 in East Montpelier, Vermont as part of DAVARâs oral history project.
Ellen David Friedman was born in New York City on May 7, 1952. Since she was 12 years old, she has been a passionate activist. After reading Jonathon Kozol's Death at an Early Age, an account of growing up black in the public schools, she organized her school friends to read the book, and then sell copies door to door.
At age 14, Ellen was boycotting the sale of grapes and leafleting supermarkets to support the United Farm Workers in their struggle for decent wages and working conditions.
Ellen grew up in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Roslyn Heights, New York. Her parents, first generation Americans, described themselves as atheists, yet the family belonged to a Reform synagogue and participated in Jewish culture.
After graduating from Harvard University in 1974 with a degree in political science, Ellen moved to Vermont. She volunteered with the United Electrical Workers when they were trying to organize a union at General Electric in Rutland.
While working for Orange County Mental Health she met her husband Stuart, a social worker, and they were married in 1980. They have one son Eli. They are long time members of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Montpelier.
For over 20 years Ellen worked for the teachers' union, Vermont NEA, organizing school support staff. Ellen volunteered many hours for progressive causes such as The Livable Wage Campaign and The Vermont Workers Center. She was a founding member of the Vermont Progressive Party and has served as its vice-chairperson.
Eli's interest in China and the conditions of migrant workers in sweatshops inspired Ellen and Stuart to visit China themselves. They have been dividing their time between work in the States and teaching at Sun Yat Sen University located in Guangzhou.
In 2004 DAVAR: The Vermont Jewish History Project was founded by Ann Buffum and Sandy Gartner. At the time, there was no other collection of Vermont Jewish women's life stories. Over five year period they conducted oral history interviews with 20 Jewish women living in rural and urban Vermont ranging in age from 12 to 96. The women's stories reflect a wide variety of interests, beliefs and occupations including women in government, education, political and social advocacy, farming, business, the arts, homemaking and religion. Some of the women have roots going back to the early Jewish settlers in the state and others have been more recent migrants. The topics they discuss reflect the history of the times: escaping the holocaust, coping with gender discrimination, breaking into politics and medicine, converting to Judaism from another faith, and making contributions to the arts and culture.
Ellen David Friedman's photo credit: Karen Pike, www.kpikephoto.com
This project was made possible in part by major grants from the Aviva Spring Foundation, Vermont Humanities Council, Damon and Marilee Buffum, Vermont Community Fund and many other individuals and organizations who have supported DAVAR through their donations.